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The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.

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A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.

News for December, 2008

Feature: Housing Benefits Should Include Youth in Poverty Reduction Strategies

A coalition of private, public and non-profit housing associations, community organizations, academics, and foundations released a proposal recently for a new housing benefit for low-income Ontarians. The proposal, outlined in A Housing Benefit for Ontario: One Housing Solution for a Poverty Reduction Strategy, recommends a new income benefit that will help low-income, working age renters with high shelter costs in communities across Ontario. The proposed housing benefit would add a necessary affordable housing component to Ontario’s highly anticipated Poverty Reduction Strategy, expected in December; a strategy that advocates hope other governments replicate throughout the country.

There is much speculation of late that the proposal is getting serious consideration with the Liberal government. Although advocates working with homeless youth applaud the initiative, most are hoping the Liberals expand the eligibility criteria put forward to consider, rather than exclude, youth (under age 25) who are in post secondary school.

“One group that might legitimately be excluded is youth in full time attendance at post secondary institutions,” the proposal says. “This is because students typically have low-incomes only in the short term. Also, they are eligible for student grants and loans.”

This may not always be the case. The proposal does suggest different approaches, such as the eligibility criteria set out in the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, which have poverty reduction strategies.

“The design we put forward here focuses on low income renters and excludes seniors. It is quite possible to extend the design, however, to include both owners and renters, and households of all ages.”

“The overall objective is to create a new housing benefit that helps not just Ontario Works/Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, but also the working poor, residents of social housing who are paying market rents, and at the same time helps prevent homelessness.”

Objectives of the proposal:
• Extend housing assistance to the working poor and minimize risk of a return to Ontario Works.
• Minimize the possibility of rents being raised in concert with rate increases in social assistance.
• Introduce incentives for low-income tenants to shop for housing that is suitable for them; for instance to seek out affordable housing that is closer to where they work.
• Introduce a new way to help low-income workers remain in their housing.
• Reduce barriers to move off and remain off income assistance, and gradually move out of deep poverty.

The proposed benefit pays an average of $103 per month to an estimated 66,000 families and 129,000 individual and couple households. The amount of the benefit is based on a formula that pays 75% of shelter costs between a floor and a ceiling that varies by community size. The housing benefit is reduced as income rises.

The housing benefit would produce a number of positive outcomes, including: increasing housing affordability and therefore preventing hunger and homelessness; providing housing assistance to the working poor for the first time in decades; helping people get off welfare and into work by continuing assistance to those moving into the labour force; and helping low-wage workers live and work in their home communities, reducing stress on transit systems and helping to mitigate against labour shortages in high cost cities such as Toronto and Ottawa.

“Our housing benefit is a carefully targeted, fiscally conservative proposal – exactly the kind of investment that is needed to help people make ends meet at a time when jobs are being lost and the economy is uncertain,” said Vince Brescia, President and CEO of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario.

“The lack of affordable housing was raised at every stop in the Ontario government’s recent poverty consultation. The housing benefit, along with investment in affordable housing supply and maintenance, is a critical piece of both a poverty reduction strategy and an affordable housing strategy,” said Sharad Kerur, Executive Director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. The coalition includes the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario, Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Greater Toronto Apartment Association, Daily Bread Food Bank, and Metcalf Charitable Foundation.

Community Spotlight: Toronto Helps Youth with ‘Housing First’ Approach

“Our young people are our future and we all have a role to play in safeguarding them and helping them reach their fullest potential,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller, who spoke at the Partners Solving Youth Homelessness conference which took place in Toronto November 19-21. “I believe that through the collective efforts of leaders like you, we can create and promote sustained strategies that will successfully address the serious issue of youth homelessness.”

During the conference, participants heard about the approach Toronto has been using since 2005 to address youth homelessness. The “Streets to Homes” youth program and its non-profit partner agencies use a “Housing First” approach in working with homeless and street-involved youth, said counsellor Sarah Cunningham, who also spoke at the youth conference.

Four street outreach counsellors work with the young people, focusing on helping them to get housing and keep it, and supporting them as they become more stable and integrated into the community. “An important part of the counsellor’s job,” Cunningham said, “is to help youth to address the complex needs related to health, mental health, substance use, employment, training and education.”

The program has helped more than 2,100 people move directly into permanent housing. Research indicates that almost 90% remain housed. And last May, Toronto City Council approved enhancements to Streets to Homes so that the services are now being provided to all those who are street-involved.

The City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes program has recently been named by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as one of Canada’s best practices in affordable housing. City of Toronto’s, Director Shelter, Support and Housing Division, Housing and Homelessness Support and Initiatives Section, Katherine Chislett accepted the 2008 Housing Award for Best Practices in Affordable Housing at a ceremony in Ottawa on November 3. The program has also been acknowledged as one of the best housing programs in the world by the UN’s World Habitat Awards.

Toronto received one of 16 awards bestowed every two years by CMHC to honour the people and organizations creating affordable housing solutions across the country. Another youth program, which also received an award – Peel Youth Village, Mississauga, Ontario – provides affordable transitional housing for young people in need that is built on top of an underused parking garage transformed and incorporated into the project. The Village provides 48 young people with housing, as well as access to fitness facilities and life skills and employment support.

News Briefs: New on Raising the Roof’s Shared Learnings on Homelessness Website

John Howard Society of Fredericton, in New Brunswick, provides community-based services and advocacy for individuals who have or may come in conflict with the law. The organization reviews, analyzes and evaluates criminal justice issues and actively promotes appropriate structural changes in the community justice process with community education and development. The John Howard Society stimulates and engages community participation in response to the problems and issues of crime.

Safe Haven Women’s Shelter Society, in Taber, Alberta, is committed to addressing our community's need for comprehensive family violence services. It is our goal to stop the cycle of violence by providing emergency shelter, public education and support services for women and children. We strive to prevent all forms of violence and enhance the family violence response collectively at all levels within the community.

Child Poverty Needs Strategy during Economic Downturn

“The federal government would make a timely strategic move if it invested now to reduce stubborn poverty rates in Canada”, says a new report by Campaign 2000. The 2008 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada shows the nation’s child poverty rate is almost what it was in 1989 when Parliament unanimously resolved to end child poverty by the year 2000. Almost one in nine Canadian children live in poverty—one in four in First Nations Communities. Advocates sounded a timely warning—the last time Canada was in a recession, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the child poverty rate jumped to one in five children.

Partners Gather to Find Solutions to Youth Homelessness

On November 19 – 21, 250 people from across the country converged at a three-day Partners Solving Youth Homelessness national conference in downtown Toronto. Their goal: to promote solutions to Canada's youth homelessness crisis. Currently, an estimated 65,000 youth across Canada are without a place to call home.

A conference highlight was the opportunity for participants to contribute to a proposed National Strategy to Solve Youth Homelessness. The Strategy provides a snapshot of the experience of some 700 homeless and at-risk youth in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador; Toronto, Ontario; and Calgary, Alberta. The Strategy also proposed a dynamic Youth Action Agenda and National Strategy Checklist for use by communities.

“We must urgently support and expand efforts to solve youth homelessness in Canada,” says Sean Gadon, President of Raising the Roof. “Solving youth homelessness makes economic sense and ensures that young people avoid cycling into a life-time of homelessness and despair.”

The conference examined the underlying causes of youth homelessness, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, addiction, loss of permanent housing, mental health issues, poverty, violence, lack of formal education, and absence of a stable family life. The program also focused on proven solutions, highlighting best practice services and programs across the country.

“Participants heard the voices of young people, public and private sector organizations, charities and non-profit groups who are working towards a new and better deal for Canada’s homeless and vulnerable youth,” Gadon said. Partners Solving Youth Homelessness was hosted by Raising the Roof with Direct Energy and Human Resources and Social Development Canada as lead conference partners.


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